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Mets trade Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider, Ryan Church

Saturday, December 1st 2007, 11:30 AM

Keivom/News

Lastings Milledge catches a flyball against the Astros at Shea Stadium. He'll be doing that in a Nationals uniform next season.

Not long ago, the Mets considered Lastings Milledge their top positional prospect and untouchable in trade talks. Friday they dealt him to the Washington Nationals for two veterans GM Omar Minaya called "not known names," but who he said would be everyday players.

The Mets got Brian Schneider, a solid defensive catcher who ranked fourth in the NL in throwing out base-stealers, and Ryan Church, an outfielder who hit .272 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI last season.

Schneider, 31, will start in front of backup Ramon Castro. And while Church, 29, would appear to be no better than an occasional starter in a mix with Endy Chavez and Carlos Gomez, Minaya said, "We think of Church as our everyday guy" in right field.

Since the Mets' season ended in a historic collapse, Minaya has been seeking a front-line starter. The Mets have had trade talks with Minnesota about Johan Santana, with Oakland about Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, with Florida about Dontrelle Willis and with Baltimore about Erik Bedard.

In each dialogue Minaya offered a package of players and prospects. He said dealing Milledge, who hit .272 with seven home runs in 184 at-bats last year, would have no impact in any of those ongoing discussions.

"Before we made this trade, we checked around with some of the teams and said, 'Will this compromise or hurt the possibility of getting the trades done with the players we're talking about?'" Minaya said. "They said, 'No, you have enough players to do a deal without that player involved.'"

Milledge, 22, reportedly was offered with Aaron Heilman and Phillip Humber to the Orioles in a proposal that was rejected. Including Milledge did not make it more desirable to Baltimore, but one baseball official said, "You put Church or Gomez in place of Milledge in an offer and it might be a more attractive offer."

It speaks to how Milledge's tumultuous time with the Mets has damaged his status as a top prospect. In 2006, Milledge irritated the Mets after hitting his first career home run, sharing high-fives with fans en route to taking his position in right field. And he irked teammates enough that one hung an anonymous note in his locker that read, "Know your place, Rook!"

Earlier this year, the franchise was embarrassed by his performance on a rap song that had offensive language and was seen as derogatory to women.

"(Milledge) ... might have been a higher value up ahead. I do believe when it's all said and done, we're getting good players for him, two key players for us," Minaya said. "I don't think he fell out of demand. ... Did he made mistakes along the way? Yes. But then again, any kid growing up makes mistakes."

"As far as the controversy goes, sometimes you feel you get the raw end of the deal, whether it was or whether it wasn't," said Milledge, who was thrilled to be reunited with Nats manager and former Mets coach Manny Acta. "It made me a better person. It made me a better ballplayer. It helped me at a young age to really play in a big market and really kind of have everybody against you at one point."

Church, too has some baggage. Late in the 2005 season he was quoted in the Washington Post as suggesting that Jews will be eternally damned. He apologized two days later, and Minaya said the Mets looked into the incident before completing the deal.

Schneider's contract will pay him $4.9 million each of the next two seasons and calls for him to receive an extra $500,000 if he is traded. The Mets have contractual control over Church, 29, for four more seasons.

SAVE IT, BILLY: Minaya was upset about recent criticisms by closer Billy Wagner and said in a radio interview that he called the lefthander, discussed the team's offseason strategy and told him, "You have to be careful." ... The agent for Yorvit Torrealba said he would pursue an action against the Mets because their three-year, $14.4 million deal unraveled shortly after the catcher took a physical. Torreable re-signed with Colorado for two years and $7.25 million.

-With Adam Rubin

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